Uptown Chicago Resources


Historic Theatres & Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz

Historic Theatres of Balaban and Katz: Nortown Theatre

The Nortown Theatre. © Bruce Sharp. Visit Lost Palaces: A Gallery of Old Movie Theatres for more of his work. Image courtesy of www.Mekong.net; used with permission.

Historic Theatres of Balaban and Katz: Nortown Theatre

The Nortown Theatre. Image courtesy HAARGIS.

The Nortown Theatre — A Brief History

The Nortown Theatre, located at 6320 N. Western, was designed by architect J.E.O. Pridmore, who also designed Preston Bradley’s Peoples Church in Uptown. Completed in 1931 for the Publix-Balaban & Katz group, it was an atmospheric theatre with a distinctive marine motif, supposedly the first in the country to use such a theme. Mermaids and sea horses frolicked admist zodiac elements. A Chicago Tribune article dated from March of that year reported that the ceiling was to be “an exact duplication of an April contellation...J.C. Penn, astronomy professor at Armour institute, was commissioned to put the stars in their proper places.”

Rogers Park native Gene Siskel, of Siskel & Ebert fame, credited his love of the movies to many a Saturday afternoon spent at the Nortown. As his official biography describes, “At a time when most American children were slaves to their television sets, Siskel preferred walking several blocks to the historic Nortown Theater, his favorite place to catch a show. Like a child stepping into a fantasy world, he would lose himself in the Nortown’s spacious Mediterranean interior and find himself gazing into the effervescent glow of the theater’s unique lighting system. As Siskel himself once said, he was ’swept away’ by the experience.”

In the mid-eighties Plitt Theatres, which owned the Nortown in its later years, divided the theatre into three screens. Cineplex Odeon, the successor to Plitt, painted over everything in the audiorium—including its distinctive murals. Eventually, the Nortown closed as a theatre in 1990. Later it was used for a brief time by a church group. The group reportedly stripped the majority of the unique decorative plaster fixtures and sold them through an architectural salvage company in Chicago. The group also whitewashed the lobby and tore down the marquee.

Demolition of the Nortown began in 2007. Amrit Patel, who owns several Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins locations, wants to build a 70-unit, six-story condo building on the site. Reportedly, the complex will contain two small theatres that will show Indian and Pakistani films. Originally, Patel wanted to preserve the building, but said the numbers “just didn’t work.”


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